Co-op an ideal business model for health

If you had asked the founders of the Canberra-based National Health Coop if they would have grown from a single clinic with one GP to a network of clinics that sees 100,000 patients a year in just five years, they would have agreed it sounded overly ambitious. But reality paints a different picture. The organisation provides affordable GP services to the community. It started with one clinic and one GP in 2010 and today runs five clinics and three nursing homes and its GP list has swelled to 20.

Last week all of the country’s first ministers met in Sydney to discuss how they can balance their respective state and territory budgets while continuing to invest in the crucial public policy area of health. Part of the solution lies in the success of groups like the National Health Co-op (NHC).

The NHC provides an attractive, co-operative business model for doctors and allied health professionals like psychologists, dieticians and physiotherapists who want to focus on what they do best – providing quality primary healthcare, particularly to those who are vulnerable in the community. Doctors can prioritise their time on seeing patients while the NHC provides back-end business support and focuses on training and the rollout of new clinics.

Chronic health issues pose a real problem for policy makers in coming years. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, almost half of potentially preventable hospitalisations are from selected chronic conditions. To ensure already busy emergency departments do not have to treat conditions that might be best attended by a GP, there must be adequate access to GPs close to where people live and work. This is precisely what the NHC works to provide and the future is bright for the organisation. In my recent visit to the new NHC offices in Jamison, the chief development officer told me excitedly that the NHC was looking to expand to almost three new clinics in the next six months as well as into regional areas.

The success of the NHC demonstrates clearly that small budget investments - in this case $220,000 in the ACT 2009-10 Budget, along with contributions from local business groups and the community – can play a big role in addressing community demand for services, particularly in health where demand is continuing to creep up. I congratulate all those who have played a role, small or large to get this organisation running and admire the enthusiasm of the board and the staff of the NHC who want to see it grow to meet the health care need.  

This blogpost was originally published in the Canberra Chronicle.